September 19, 2018

Last night with Bernie

Last night at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Bernie Sanders waited a long, long time to say the “C” word.

He took the stage late.  At about 11 pm—an hour after Sanders was expected to speak–  the crowd of at least a thousand people started screaming and chanting.  For hours, they had been pumped up with rock music, waving “Bernie 2016” placards, bursting into spontaneous cheers. 

When their man finally appeared, it was several minutes of exultation.

“BERNIE OR BUST! BERNIE OR BUST!” a middle-aged blonde woman started screaming from the back of the crowd.

A man standing in front of her, wearing an American flag like a prayer shawl, turned around and asked her to stop it.

“That’s not what this is about,” he said, calmly.  He suggested she let Bernie deliver his own message.

Bernie Sanders speaking at the rally

The candidate stood high above the crowd.  Behind him rose a bleacher full of mostly young supporters,  a high-energy backdrop for the solid bank of television cameras and print reporters in the press section across the cavernous room.  Between them the floor was packed with a mixed crowd of young and old, die-hards and the curious. Some people wore their “Occupy” buttons.  Many kept their iPhones high, to record the moment.

A Bernie puppet made an appearance among the throngs of Sanders supporters

“Our vision is the future of America,” Sanders said. “We will not allow the right wing to control our country. We will not allow Donald Trump to become President!” 

The crowd was with him.  A man kept a Bernie puppet aloft on his shoulders.  A woman waved a placard showing Bernie in an elf hat.  There was something moving about seeing such acceptance and popularity for the first serious Jewish American candidate for President.  As much as Hillary cracked the glass ceiling for women, Sanders, without making too much of it, cracked the blue-and-white ceiling for Jews. 

There was speculation that Sanders would take the stage and acknowledge defeat and throw his support behind Clinton.   When Bernie did, finally, late in his speech, congratulate Clinton for her California victory, the wave of boos was deafening.  

“You know Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief?” Avery Krut, a campaign consultant said. “He’s in denial.  And the crowd is in anger.”

And Sanders fed their anger.  He vowed to fight on to the primary in Washington, DC and the convention in Philadelphia.  Big cheers. 

Taking a page from Trump’s playbook, he accused the media of bias against him.  At that point a chorus of boos rose up and the crowd turned and faced the press section, motioning their thumbs down and jeering.   Most of the reporters didn’t look up from their MacBook Air’s to see the reaction—probably for the better. 

Could Bernie, if he wanted, have really turned the crowd toward Hillary?

Richard Greene, a communications strategist among the crowd, said that’s what a leader does: take the crowd where it needs to go. 

“Here’s what he could have said,” Greene said. “’The battle for the Presidency is over. The battle for America has just begun.’”

Perhaps Sanders hinted at that, by focusing more on Trump than on Hillary, by reminding his audience who the real enemy was.  It’s possible his strategy was to let his supporters take a day or so to grieve, then concede.

Who knows?  Sanders wrapped up his speech to wild applause.  He spread his arms, basking in the adulation, looking like Larry David at the Emmys.

Then he turned and quickly departed. 

The crowd spilled out into the warm Santa Monica night. Outside the security team was dismantling the metal detectors.   

A man in a tall pointed felt hat was yelling. “Bernie’s the man! Bernie’s the man!” over and over.   Another man was just screaming something unintelligible at anyone who would listen.

A woman turned to her companion as they climbed into their Uber ride.

“I didn’t realize there’s so many homeless people for Bernie,” she said.

Rob Eshman is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TRIBE Media Corp/The Jewish Journal of Los Angels. He can be reached at robe@jewishjournal.com